“Take your shirt off and I’ll see what I can do.” If your dream is to hear Dirty Dozen vet Clint Walker grumble those words to a construction worker– and be honest, you know somewhere deep inside it is – look no further than Killdozer, the shark-jumping 1974 MFTV offering about, yes, a possessed, killer bulldozer. While the spectacle of grown men unable to evade death at the metal maw of a slow-as-molasses earthmover may not make for an ambrosial 75 minutes, there are good bits of atmosphere scattered throughout and a spectacular synth-heavy Gil Melle score-cum-soundscape to reward diligent viewers – to say nothing of being able to simply sit back and enjoy one of the more harebrained concepts ever committed to populist celluloid.
Believe it or not, KD is actually based on a '40s novella which roped in all manner of outrageous angles, including the lost city of Atlantis(!), in spinning its man v. machine web. The telefilm version, as with most vintage MFTV offerings, was forced to operate on a constrained budget and jettisoned some of those more far flung elements in favor of a stripped down look at a team of construction workers squaring off against an alien force that inhabits a two-ton bulldozer.
A pre-credit sequence sees a rogue asteroid hurtling toward Earth, landing smack in the way of a construction crew attempting to pave a runway on a Pacific island circa WWII. In the process of trying to uproot the strange obstruction, the men unleash an energy that seeps into a bulldozer (and cooks one unlucky laborer alive). It isn’t long before the titular menace is operating of its own accord, smashing the crew’s radio and hunting them down, resulting in a string of hilariously earnest sequences of people being silently stalked by the whirring, grinding, smoke-billowing villain. Their numbers dwindling, the remaining team members set about laying an elaborate series of traps in hopes of deep-sixing the machine, or at least the evil thriving inside it.
Quickly establishing its characters and the central predicament, the film manages to build solid atmosphere in the early going. The “stranded team of experts” trope was shopworn even in KD’s day, but it works here all the same. The men themselves aren’t the most original types but have the good fortune of being played by the near-standard MFTV roster of strong character players – Walker, Neville Brand, Robert Urich. Melle’s score is, as usual, a highpoint. The soundscape designed to denote KD’s possessed state plays like something out of an avant-garde installation piece, built from a undulating cacophony of randomly modulated tones.
The spiritual, if not literal, forbearer of such gonzo Sci-Fi Channel offerings as Boa Versus Python and Mansquito, Killdozer packs in enough genuine chills and charm to overcome the inevitable bouts of derisive laughter it engenders. Not the cream of the MFTV crop, but undoubtedly one of the field’s strangest entries and a well-made thriller to boot.
Somewhat poetically, the film has popped up on Sci-Fi from time to time in recent years. The rights appear to sit with Universal, which has sadly shown little interest in raiding its back catalog. A watchful eye can still catch the film during re-broadcast, but it sure would be nice to have a spiffy legit DVD release. Are you listening, Criterion? No? OK, OK… how about Alpha? Video Search of Miami? Anyone? Hello…???